Immigrant artists — from Irving Berlin to Mel Tormé — penned odes to the mythic fantasies of the American middle class they desperately wanted to join.

An outtake from “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas” with American composer, conductor and author Rob Kapilow. Kapilow, who is also the conductor and host of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s “What Makes it Great?” series, points out all the Yiddish and Jewish notes in the Christmas classic “White Christmas.”

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,

Jack Frost nipping at your nose,

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,

And folks dressed up like Eskimos”

It’s hard to think of words or music that conjure up the Christmas season more quickly than the opening of “The Christmas Song.”

The images evoke a classic, timeless Christmas — chestnuts roasting, carols, people bundled up against the cold. Yet the song was actually written on a sweltering day in the summer of 1945 in Hollywood, Calif., by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé, who were simply trying to imaginatively cool themselves off.

Bing Crosby, with Marjorie Reynolds, sings "White Christmas" in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. The song, which became a huge hit, especially after appearing in another Crosby vehicle, White Christmas in 1954, was penned by Jewish composer Irving Berlin.
Bing Crosby, with Marjorie Reynolds, sings “White Christmas” in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. The song, which became a huge hit, especially after appearing in another Crosby vehicle, White Christmas in 1954, was penned by Jewish composer Irving Berlin.

And though the song has become a worldwide symbol of Christmas, like nearly all the modern songs that now define this fundamentally Christian holiday it was written by Jews.

Names like George Wyle (born Bernard Weissman), Eddie Pola (Sidney Pollacsek), Felix Bernard, Jay Livingston (Jacob Levison), Ray Evans, Gloria Shayne Baker (Gloria Shain), Robert Wells (Robert Levison), Robert May and Johnny Marks might be unfamiliar today, but along with better-known songwriters like Mel Tormé, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn and Irving Berlin, they wrote the core of the secular Christmas-song repertoire.